This series, Simply Sellable, is our weekly effort to answer questions on what type of photos buyers want to license, the trends we see happening across the licensing industry, and what visual thought leaders anticipate being successful in the licensing space. Each week, one member of our Content Team will provide advice, tips, tricks or even example photos in an effort to help and guide you, our community of amazing photographers, in your effort to capture that perfectly licensable image.

One of the greatest things you can do to bring interest, licensability, uniqueness, and excitement to a portrait is to include some color. The use of color can help to set a tone, convey emotion, imply drama, evoke feelings, and tell a story. There are many ways to inject color into your portraits and bring them to life in unique and original ways.

Selective color

Pick a certain tone and use it to relate the subject of the photo to their environment. In Shutter Skirt by Pierre Babin, the photographer leverages bright green and coordinates the green shutters of the building with the rippling skirt of the model. This juxtaposition adds an interesting visual element while allowing the viewer’s eye to travel along the photo in a vertical line.

shutter & skirt by Pierre Babin on

In Blending in by Bo Breugelmans, the photographer uses matching colors of white and brown to blend her subject into the background. This creates a dynamic image that begs for a second look to figure out how it’s done.

Blending in by Bo Breugelmans on

Colorful Background

When in a studio, the use of a colorful background can help to illuminate the subject. In Red by Efin Shevchenko, the bright, rich background along with the luscious brown of the wooden bench against the floor allows the black clothing of the model to stand out from the surrounding environment.

Red by Efim Shevchenko on

In Patrick Martens by Ruud Baan, the photographer uses this same technique while incorporating lines, shapes, and color blocking techniques to entice the viewer’s eye to travel over the photo while focusing in on the model.

Patrick Martens by Ruud  Baan on

Colorful Lights

Get creative with colorful lighting with gels or unusual light sources like reflections or neon to help spotlight the model. In Blowing, Guy Keating uses a deep blue light and adds pink tones in an effort to highlight the smoke of the cigarette from the woman’s face. The deep orangish hue of the background only helps to give this portrait a unique look through the use of color and style.

Blowing by Guy Keating on

In JPG by Benoit Paille, the brightly lit interior of the car uses a similar technique as Blowing. Creating a contradiction in colors through unique lighting techniques can only help to enhance the portrait.

26996835993.jpg by Benoit  paille on

Unique lights

Use unique lighting like dayglo, long exposures, black lights, or even body paints to show the subject from an unusual perspective. In Backlight 07 by Steve Ezell, the photographer uses green and pink to emphasize the angular features of the model, complementing this against a dynamic and graffiti-inspired background.

Blacklight 07 by Steve Ezell on

In Ludmilla Mary 2fik, Richard Rhyme emphasizes a pair of fashionable shoes in an eye-popping yellow against a blue background. The narrow environment only helps to emphasize that the focus of this photo should be 100% on the model.

Ludmilla Mary/2Fik by Richard Rhyme on


Adding color in post-processing through color overlays, infrared effects, or desaturating of other colors help certain tones pop. In Handsome Caucasian Male with Creative Make-up by Iuliia Isaeva, the photographer uses an overlay of orange in a triangular shape to highlight the blue of the model’s eyebrows. The emphasis on the eye adds a serious tone to this photo leaving the viewer to wonder what the man may be experiencing.

Handsome caucasian male with creative make-up by Iuliia Isaeva on

In Sport, Lena Osmolovska drains the color from the background, creating an emphasis on the red of the model’s clothing. Like previous photographers, this contributes to the focus of the photo and assures that the viewer’s eye travels directly to the center of the image.

sport by Lena Osmolovska on

As seen in these examples, playing with color in portraits can make for a captivating photo that will intrigue buyers. Working with a variety of ideas, subjects and lighting techniques can create stunning effects while enhancing your subject and telling a story. Using bold colors and experimenting is one of the best practices you can do as a portrait photographer. Get out there and get colorful!

Headline Photo: Kicking Back by Guy Keating